Friday, November 9, 2007

Reaction: Virtually Real

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

Today's post is a reaction to classmate Cindy Anderson's entry titled "Virtually Real", from her blog "The Write Reason". Cindy focuses mainly on a website called Second Life (SL) which I had not heard of until she mentioned it in class. This is a 3D virtual reality website where people can join and create avatars (and pseudonyms if they like). A more detailed description is here. I chose to talk about this today because it has connections to all of the topics I've reacted to this week: online privacy, technology in the classroom, social networking, and defamatory postings.

Virtual reality and online privacy:
at the outset, it would seem that a virtual world would be a great way to have privacy. However, there are a growing number of corporate "sponsors" buying real estate in this world, and I wonder how information they have access to about the members (I.P. address, email address, etc.) In addition, there is something unhealthy about being too private. I think when you are able to put your name (and likeness) out there and stand for what you truly believe in, you are truly free. I am sure a lot of people are living there as themselves (to the extent that they can) for fun, but from what I've read, there's a lot of sneaky stuff going on there, too. And don't forget, your best friends are in your real world.

Virtual reality and technology in the classroom:
Well, I honestly hope this sort of virtual reality "game" would never be allowed in the classroom. As the Wikipedia article mentions, Second Life was created by and largely used by 3D artists, so I understand and appreciate the talent and creativity that has gone into this. So, I think kids who have an interest in art/graphics should most definitely get involved in this type of project. However, I fear that what Cindy says may be true - virtual reality may become the new Facebook or MySpace. This concerns me. At least on the current popular social networking sites, kids are using real pictures of themselves and I think for the most part trying to create a page that represents themselves and their interests. I just think virtual reality can be very very dangerous if not used in moderation, in all of its forms, and this about as pure a form as you can get.

Virtual realty and social networking: Another concern about using a virtual world as a social network would be the addictive quality of such a place. And even more frightening: add in the fact that real estate can be bought and sold (among other things) with real money. This is how the advertisers are making their presence known - by buying private islands and such. At least on MySpace it is free for anyone to use, there is a level playing field in that regard. I worry that people (teens included, they have their own Second Life) will run up credit cards after getting too deep into a world like this. And the fact that child pornography has somehow seeped into this world is doubly troubling.

Virtual reality and defamatory posting:
I read that some virtual police have been set up on Second Life in order to keep watch over the "gambling" activities. I wonder how long it will be before the police force grows to monitor other things. In any society, you're going to have crime. The Wikipedia article explains that "Chatting is used for public localized conversations between two or more avatars, and can be "heard" within 20 m. Avatars can also 'shout' ('audible' within 96 m). IM is used for private conversations, either between two avatars, or between the members of a group." So, if someone "shouts" something nasty about you in a virtual world, that could be considered defamatory slander. I wonder if the Second Life website records these "chats" and "shouts"? Or would it be up to the witnesses to say they "heard" it...and would they care, in a virtual world?
Very interesting stuff.

I am thinking about signing up to learn more, but my inner graphic artist is telling me I'd be one to get addicted. Stay away, Marcie!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Reaction: Individual privacy in an online world

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

Today's post is a reaction to classmate Josh Voorhees' entry titled "Individual privacy in an online world", from his blog "A Newspaper with Infinite Bureaus". In it, Josh makes a lot of great points concerning online privacy, including the very true statement that" it is almost impossible to navigate the Internet while leaving no digital footprint behind."

I think I am careful on the Internet. But there are always going to be people out their bound and determined to fulfill their goals - usually motivated by greed - who may essentially "rip you off". I also probably place too much trust in corporations to keep the information I do provide safe. Google probably has the most information about me, since I use them for a lot of business, personal, and educational purposes. I tend to trust Google - but they are, if anyone - today's Big Brother, and are big in the business of marketing, so don't doubt their intentions. And another way we leave ourselves vulnerable is in the increasing usage of public wireless networks. I found these tips from Microsoft on keeping yourself safe in a wireless environment; but the fact is: the public hotspots we are using more frequently are not secure, so please remember: never enter a credit card number or other sensitive information unless you are on a secure (preferably non-wireless) network!

Even when you don't give out your information, or are told it will be kept private, be very wary. As an example, the Yahoo! email address I use was set up, at first, for the purpose of entering on websites that require an email address. I only do this when the site promises not to share my information. Lo and behold, within a few months the spam was coming in at regular intervals. Perhaps this is due to "bad" spiders (similar to a crawler) which scour the Internet looking for email addresses published on pages to steal. This is why you are probably starting to see people publishing their addresses like this: "marcie0305(at)" in an attempt to try and fool them. But I am sure they will not be fooled for long.

I've also noticed that my Yahoo! page is showing me ads tailored to my geography (distance learning from the UNC system and NC State, for example) but I wonder if they also know I am a student and are targeting these ads at me for that reason? (Insert twilight zone music here.) Another site I visit for fun sometimes,, often shows me banner ads that say something like "Hey Raleigh! Get your ringtones here!" Now, I know I have never given any information to Braingle, but I gather that they are reading my I.P. address in order to glean my location. There is some concern from privacy advocates about this, of course. In the spirit of privacy, I will tell you that there are ways to surf anonymously, if you do a little looking around...

Finally, I can't help but to comment on Josh's #4 fear: "Big Brother" in which he says: "Imagine if your potential health insurance provider had access to your credit card bills and could tell how often you ate fast food, drank at a bar, or bought cigarettes, this information could then be used to set your premiums and deductibles." They do always ask about alcohol and cigarettes in the questionnaires, don't they? I think it's a stretch to think that our banks would invade our privacy like that (they'd lose a lot of customers). But I would like to see those insurance questionnaires include more comprehensive inquiries into your health factor, perhaps like the life expectancy calculator I wrote about here. That said, I do think it's possible that insurance companies may look for what you put out there - on social networks, possibly some of the sites you visit…hmmmm, gotta be careful what I purchase with that new Nationwide Visa!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Reaction: Classroom Access to Technology: Reason to Pause?

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

Today I am reacting to my classmate Amanda Toler's post called "Classroom Access to Technology: Reason to Pause?" from her blog, Global Criss Cross. I am interested in this topic, of course, because I too have a son (who will be entering the public school system in the next few years). Her concern about students' access to technology is certainly a valid one, considering the considerable expense of new technology and the rapid rate at which technology moves.

I was especially interested in the existence of "detractors of technology use in the U.S. classroom", especially in light of my last post which warns against spending too much time in front of a computer. These detractors "continue to question if the educational benefits of technology are worth the price". My opinion is this: I think that the money should be spent in the upper grade levels (high school) where students are preparing for future success in college and/or the working world. There is little doubt that technology will be part of the endeavors of the majority of the students. I think giving younger children exposure to technology is also paramount, but it need not be the latest-greatest computer sitting on their desks. I was happy to see a lone keyboard in my son's two-year old room, because I think that will help him familiarize himself with the layout of the keys. I know he will have access to a "real" computer where he can perform tasks in preschool (and at home), and I would be happy to see the same when he gets to kindergarten, as long as the tasks remain age-appropriate. Perhaps in middle school he should begin using the internet as a research tool, but again, no bells and whistles needed.

I ran across this page from the NEA (National Education Association) which includes their positions on Technology and Education. I would like to highlight the last one: "Students should also be taught the appropriate and safe use of technology". Although this statement is vague, hopefully that would be to include the health issues that can arise, the dangers of anonymity online, and even productivity strategies in a technology-driven world. Check out this post from author Timothy Ferriss about how marijuana smokers were more productive than those dealing with normal office distraction in a 2005 study! As important as technology is, I want to make sure our kids get the message that it's not healthy to be dependent upon it.

Amanda gives some excellent solutions that could help get more technology in the classrooms and in the most appropriate areas. I wanted to mention a charity I am very familiar with, This is wonderful charity that allows educators to post "projects" when they are in need of funding for a particular need. Then, donors can go in and choose the projects they want to fund. In this way, parents, other relatives, and even strangers can get involved in helping fund in areas where the government funding is lacking. It's like giving a little dose of private school into the public ones. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Reaction: Online Social Networking Problems

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

Today I am reacting to a post on my classmate Joe Recomendes' blog titled "Ramifications of Social Networking". Joe's blog is dedicated to talking about issues related to social networking online, and therefore his assignment from last week focuses on online social networking sites, particularly Facebook and MySpace. I am familiar with MySpace and can understand how it can be an addictive form of communication for our youth. When I was young, meeting someone new often was followed up by a lookup in the school yearbook. Now, kids can view profile pages that have a theme, possibly a multitude of pictures (and videos), and a list of that person's "friends" - hence the network. I use the term "friends" loosely, because I have heard that many people just try to get as many "friends" on their list as possible, even if they don't really know them. And even then, an online friend is never really a "real" friend. Furthermore, the addictive quality of these sites can lead to health problems associated with spending too much time in front of a computer (more later).

Why is an online friend not a true friend? I won't go so far as calling it a sixth sense, but we humans (and other animals) truly do send of signals to each other that cause us to trust, distrust, like, dislike, etc. Body language is a big part of this. Some people get along with certain kinds of people, it's not an issue of good vs. bad. So, let's say you befriend someone over a connection to a favorite movie or song and your online friendship goes swell for several months. Most of what you have formed about this person is really in your head. Eventually, you decide to meet. The new "friend" is still going to be shiny and new for awhile, everything will seem peachy. However, odds are, if you end up in a situation where you are now (finally) spending real time together, minus the adrenaline (and other hormones that compel you to make connections with other humans) of the initial excitement, that person is going to become annoying when the differences between your perception of them and the real them become clear. It's easy to form a meaningful "connection" with someone (akin to having a celebrity crush) that can become addictive and obsessive in and of itself. And frankly, it's dangerous when this happens with someone you actually have access to. I'll just reference Lisa Marie Nowak as an example, (the astronaut who became obsessed with another fellow astronaut), but I could probably find hundreds more references. Erin Hicks explains this phenomenon very well in her article, "Not love: fallin’ in limerance Part 1". It goes beyond security issues. Be very careful with online communities and communications, and keep your friends close in the real world.

As for health concerns, we all know about the obvious computer-related ailments, such as carpel-tunnel syndrome, back pain, and eye strain. But there's more: concerns about being near a wireless network (low-level radiation) too much, possible blood clots, sleep problems, headaches, and poor attention span (as if teenagers need help with that!) Along the same lines as what I said in my essay about Global Nutrition Communication Issues regarding how we evolved eating "organic" foods, we also evolved walking the land, breathing clean air and getting lots of sunshine. Lacking in these vital human needs, I believe, can cause a myriad of health problems that likely start with general sickness and depression. Thanks, Joe - I think the issues you discuss are very important for today's youth, and more.

Dr. Puja Kazmierczak of the Chiropractic Wellness Studio in Morrisville, NC offered this information and advice: "Sitting is to our spine as sugar is to our teeth ... they both decay the crucial structures of our body over time. In addition, the position that we sit in at our computers, using our keyboards and mouse is the major reason for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in our society not to mention symptomotology that imitates CS. [Also,] simple changes in posture can be devastating for the neurological health of our bodies, as headaches, neck and shoulder pains and subsequent other compensatory pains further down our spines, begin to become evident. Over time people may also experience vertigo, balance disturbances and numbness in their hands. There are simple changes we can make at our work stations…and consider replacing that work chair with a Swiss exercise ball! It's an excellent change for your body's neurology and subsequent health!"

On that note, I am going for a walk!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reaction: Who's Liable for Defamatory Postings?

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

My classmate,
David Shabazz, wrote a very interesting piece last week titled "Who's Liable for Defamatory Postings?" I chose to write about this one first because I was quite intrigued by the question. Is there really a debate about this? Really? If someone spray-paints some defamatory statements about me on a wall, do I go after Duron for making the paint, and sue the owner of the wall for supplying the canvas?

As David wrote about, this question first arose with Cubby, Inc. v. CompuServe (1991) - I agree with the general outcome - that CompuServe was not liable because they were identified as more of a distributor than a publisher. Which means that they were just supplying a means of communication and were basically ignorant to what was going on. However, the second case David mentions, Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy Services case (1995), makes the subject even more interesting. Prodigy lost this one, because they were considered more of a publisher.
Why? Editorial control. So, because they essentially had moderators and some automatic controls of what was posted, they became responsible for the content. Hmmmm...

In turn, Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was created to protect distributors and publishers alike: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Sounds to me like another way to say only the speaker is responsible for his words. Simple enough. However, David raises an interesting point: "
The interpretation by the courts should be one where we strike a balance between having freedom to express ideas freely and being responsible for the content of potentially harmful messages." So, if I own a wall that someone spray-painted a defamatory message on, is it my responsibility to remove it to lessen the impact of it staying up for a longer period of time?

I am often on the fence when it comes to issues like this, and I can hear David's frustration with online entities that essentially do nothing. My take on it is this: of course the author of the defamatory comments is liable, and I think the entity that provided the "canvas" does have a responsibility to provide a safe and honest place for people to speak, I think they should make rules and make those rules clear, I think they have every right to enforce those rules. But I don't think they are liable, perhaps unless being found guilty of being blatantly irresponsible. The California Supreme Court agreed with me last year, and I agree with this quote from the ruling: "Subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech," As a blogger and forum moderator, I appreciate the protection. But I'm not sure blanket protection is wise, either. What do you think?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Global Issues in Nutrition Communication: Focus on Food Labeling

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Below is an essay about the issues I've identified within the sphere of nutrition communication, followed by my fears, recommended solutions, and resources on the subject.)

By Marcie Barnes

Why are educated people - in even the most industrialized countries of the world - so ignorant and uninformed about nutrition? Cultural influence no doubt plays a huge role, but food product marketing and labeling also make it confusing for consumers to decipher what is truly healthy. The major problem I see with ignorance about nutrition, especially here in America, is confusing information and blatant misinformation in food marketing and on the products themselves. I am going to address the latter today: issues with food labeling.

The purpose of the nutrition label is to inform consumers about what is in the food they eat and offer an easy design format that gives a straightforward listing of the ingredients, vitamins, minerals, etc. But did you know that the FDA determines what should and should not appear on the label? For example, Vitamins A and C are the only ones required to be listed on the nutrition label, unless the manufacturer is making a claim about a particular vitamin. That’s right, according to the
FDA's website, these are the only vitamins allowed on the label (unless a claim is made.)

As for marketing claims on the front of the package: there are a myriad of things that can be confusing or misleading about those. The most annoying claim to me is the use of phrases such as “made with whole grains”. Just about everyone has read and heard that whole grains are much healthier than refined ones, but did you know these claims can be made even if there is the tiniest amount of whole grain in the product? The product can be full of refined white flour and the marketers can make this claim by adding a smidge of whole grain. (For more information about this and other confusing marketing terms, see “
The Loopholes of Food Labeling” by Tanya Jolliffe.)

Finally, I have become increasingly concerned about the dated nutrition information I keep finding. Just one example is that
new (and old) research suggests that consuming saturated fats and cholesterol isn’t necessarily what causes high cholesterol and subsequent heart-related conditions (or obesity). However, sites like the Mayo Clinic and countless others constantly tell readers to avoid eating saturated fats and cholesterol. We know that saturated fats from fish are good, so why do they keep talking about saturated fats in a blanket sense?

Please keep reading below about my top five fears related to this issue, and a few of the things I suggest that could help solve the problem.

Five Fears:

- Growing consumer trust in companies that are selling to them and in government regulation and guidelines.
- Technically false and misleading marketing claims on packaging.
- Outdated labeling requirements and nutrition information coming from trusted sources.
- Missing information on labels.
- Consumer dependency on labels and packaged foods: a tendency to think it’s healthy because it is labeled, when it's likely that the opposite is true.

Possible Solutions:

- More consumer education about eating organically (and locally). The use of the term “conventional” in description of what I call “mainstream” food forces consumers to believe that organic is the odd way to eat. When in fact, humans evolved eating off of the land: free of pesticides, preservatives, artificial colors, additives, scientifically derived ingredients (ex: corn syrup), extra hormones, and possible genetic mutations, just to name a few. Shopping in the organic grocery store is much easier for me, because I know I’m not going to find things like corn syrup on the ingredient label. Also, as more people choose organic, the “mainstream” marketers are getting the message that savvy consumers don’t want their junk. For more on why to choose organic,
read this.

- Educate yourself and your children not to take marketing claims at face value. Another example of this is the “zero trans fats” claim. There is a threshold at which manufacturers are allowed to make this claim (.5 grams or less), so, the product may not truly be free of trans-fats. Combine this with unrealistic serving/portion sizes, and it’s easy to trick the consumer into eating the trans-fats they are trying to avoid. A good example of this: sorry folks, Girl Scout cookies.

- More movement towards a more comprehensive nutrition label. I am sure that real estate could be a problem with the manufacturers, but I would like to see every component of a prepared food listed. At the least, manufacturers should be required to post that information on their web site, or even a on the USDA's website so it is centrally located. I often have a hard time find comprehensive nutrition information about products I am curious about, even online. The
USDA Nutrition Database does contain comprehensive nutrition information on a lot of mainstream products, but unfortunately, only a handful of prepared organic products are included.

Web Resources: - The 2003 Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency: The current Canadian food label is considered to be the gold standard across the globe. This is the guide that details what exactly should be on a food label. A great resource for excellence in food labeling. - Communicating Nutritional Information to the Global Consumer: Adapting to Shifting Consumer Attitudes toward Nutrition: This paper focuses mainly on problems with food labels in relation to serving size, but in the process gives a lot of helpful information about food labels and regulation in different parts of the world. - Global Consumer Perceptions and Use of Nutrition Information on Food Labels - this is an excellent article that looks specifically about consumer use, understanding, and perceptions of food labels and claims in the US, Canada, and Europe. - The Nutrition-Conscious Global Shopper / Consumer Attitudes Towards Nutritional Labels on Food Packaging in Europe: This market report from ACNielsen is another excellent resource for investigating the usage and understanding of food labels across the globe. Particularly of interest was the inclusion of cultural/geographical trends. - Label My Food forum: this British message board is aimed at getting more people educated on exactly what they are eating through food labeling, caters to people in a "dietary minority" to include vegetarians and people with allergies. - Not in My Food Blog: This informative blog, part of the Consumer's Union affiliated with Consumer Reports, reports on what is going on with food-related legislation and asks readers to get involved by writing their local decision-maker (among other things.) An important one-stop source for news regarding what's going on in Washington when it's related to what we eat.